affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

1. An Introduction to Emotions

An article by Trevor van Gorp Emotions are the means employed by the mind to evaluate the organism’s internal and external environment and respond appropriately…

Primitive emotional responses are elicited automatically and unconsciously. It is through education that a conscious, evaluative step is inserted into the processes whereby we respond emotionally to objects in the environment. In this way, education allows us to judge the appropriateness of our emotional responses, which helps us conform to the social mores of our culture.

For brands, products and websites, emotion and affect shape both our intentions and plans. Our plans are internal representations of sequences of events, actions, and consequences. They provide a link between our mental worlds and the goals we wish to achieve in the physical world. As Forlizzi and Battarbee put it, “emotions affect how we plan to interact with products, how we actually interact with products, and the perceptions and outcomes that surround those interactions.” Emotions act as triggers that start certain mental processes and lead to certain behaviours.

What is emotion?

Damasio defines emotion as “the combination of a mental evaluative process, simple or complex, with dispositional responses to that process, mostly toward the body proper, resulting in an emotional body state, but also toward the brain itself, resulting in additional mental changes”

Feelings are the experience of these emotional body states. With all emotional responses, neurological and chemical responses change the interior of the body, including the viscera and musculoskeletal system, in specific ways. The internal organs also respond, as when the heart rate increases in moments of anxiety and fear, or the stomach churns in disgust.

The private, internal expressions, or feelings of emotions can be seen as a type of kinesthetic feedback from the body that has effects on subsequent cognitive processing. The public, external signs of emotion manifest as facial expressions and changes in body posture, vocalization, breathing patterns and behaviour.

The elicitation of an emotional state begins with a stimulus that is “emotionally competent” (Damasio) or carries emotional weight. This stimulus could be an external object or experience or an internal feeling. External objects and experiences are stimuli in the external environment. Internal feelings generated without external stimuli can be triggered by association to past experience or through deliberation and appraisal. With either external or internal stimuli, what generates the emotional response is the internal representation of the experience, rather than the object or experience itself.)

It is to the internal representation that emotional meaning is attributed. We also connect aspects of our current experiences to aspects of past experiences that share commonalities and then feel the emotions associated with the past experience. This is through what Damasio call “dispositional representations”. These dispositional representations are not pictures, sounds or smells, but the means and information in the mind to recreate a mental image or picture of a sight, sound or smell along with the previously associated emotional state.

NEXT: 2.The Influence of Emotional Affect
PREVIOUS: Coming Soon: All About Design for Emotion


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    1. C November 17th, 2006 11:02 am

      This is great. 🙂 Great articles that focus on the user experience.

      I’m looking forward to more of these!

    2. trevvg November 17th, 2006 2:17 pm

      Glad to hear it! I’ll be posting more of these as time allows. The idea is to present as complete a picture as possible of how emotion applies to design and user experience. Stay tuned for more…

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